gnocchi headerIt seems that nearly every nation has some form of dumpling and it’s easy to see why. They are tasty, versatile and make excellent use of leftover ingredients. In Italy, dumplings are collectively known as gnocchi and are made in several different styles. In the family run trattorias of Rome, you can sample some of the best gnocchi every Thursday night in a citywide tradition. Just like most Italian cooking, these delicious lumps do not just vary from region to region, but from household to household as well, depending upon what is available. The most common way to prepare gnocchi is to combine potatoes (boiled, peeled or mashed) with flour to form soft bite-size lumps of dough. Each gnocco is then ridged along one side like a seashell. Gnocchi also come in different sizes, with gnocchetti being the smallest version.

Other types of gnocchi are made with semolina flour, milk and cheese – also known as Gnocchi alla Romana. Some versions are made with regular flour and other kinds can be made with leftover bread. Florence’s strozzapreti are gnocchi made from a combination of spinach and ricotta. Another spinach/ricotta gnocchi is from Lombardy called malfatti, meaning “malformed”, since these gnocchi are made from leftover ravioli filling and do not have a uniform shape. What makes gnocchi so popular is its versatility – simple ingredients like potatoes and semolina flour, vegetables, mushrooms and cheeses can be combined to make endless variations.

See two of my previous posts on the different types of gnocchi and how to make them:

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/10/16/how-to-make-homemade-gnocchi/

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/05/23/need-some-new-potato-recipes/

Woodcut from Maccaronee, by Merlin Cocai, 1521. Revelers eating gnocchi. From Pasta Classica: The Art of Italian Pasta Cooking, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books, 1986)

Woodcut from Maccaronee, by Merlin Cocai, 1521. Revelers eating gnocchi. From Pasta Classica: The Art of Italian Pasta Cooking, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books, 1986)

In early writings, gnocco (singular for gnocchi) is sometimes replaced by maccherone, a generic term for pasta. The Encyclopedia of Pasta by Oretta Zanini De Vita tells us that gnocchi is one of the earliest pastas and is originally a Germanic word describing the distinctive shape of gnocchi. Gnocchi was originally from the Middle East, but when the Romans explored the area, they took back with them the recipe for gnocchi. Thus, it was brought with them when they settled European land, in particular, Italy. Here, gnocchi most strongly rooted itself. Various regions began to invent their own form of the dish and introduce them to other neighboring countries. When Italians immigrated into South America by way of Argentina and North America, the recipe for gnocchi went with them.

Recipes for gnocchi have been documented back to the 1300’s. In some parts of Italy, gnocchi was made of fine durum wheat. Elsewhere, it was chestnut, rye, rice or barley flour. When poverty struck, gnocchi might mean leftovers bound with breadcrumbs. We do know that potatoes came in very late as an ingredient and were slow to gain a following. An early recipe for potato gnocchi, circa 1834, calls for just one part potato to three parts flour. It takes another century for modern gnocchi to emerge—where the potato is the main ingredient, with only enough flour to bind it into a workable dough.

Commercial gnocchi is readily available, but it’s worth the effort to make your own. Essentially, you mix cooked, riced potatoes with egg, then knead in some flour. There’s no special equipment required; the familiar grooved pattern is made with a table fork. Gnocchi’s delicate flavor pairs well with robust sauces, from tomato to pesto to gorgonzola. Because they cook more quickly than traditional pasta, gnocchi are a great meal idea for weeknights. Just keep an eye on them, because as soon as they float to the top, they’re ready to sauce and serve!

CrispyGnocchi_04_mini

While gnocchi are simple enough to make from scratch, there are several varieties that can be found pre-made in supermarkets or in Italian specialty stores. Pre-packaged gnocchi, depending upon ingredients, can be found fresh (refrigerated) or frozen. Pre-packaged gnocchi should not be avoided since there are several very good brands. When buying gnocchi in the store, look for the “fresh” looking kind in the refrigerated section (usually next to the fresh pasta), preferably in a well-sealed or vacuum container. The package should be heavy for its size, as dense gnocchi will be less likely to fall apart when cooking. There are also several brands of frozen gnocchi that cook up well, so long as they remain frozen before dropping them in the boiling water, otherwise they will turn into soggy mashed potatoes if allowed to thaw.

Gnocchi in the dried pasta section is usually of the semolina variety, but you may also find vacuum-sealed potato gnocchi as well. Dried semolina gnocchi are convenient and can be tasty, but its taste and texture resembles more of a pasta than fresh semolina gnocchi. With dried potato gnocchi, there just does not seem to be enough moisture left in the dumplings, making them lighter than other varieties. Because of this lack of moisture, the gnocchi tend to fall apart somewhat and often loose their shape. The rule of thumb for buying gnocchi is: get the closest thing to making it yourself – fresh/refrigerated or frozen.

Making Homemade Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lbs potatoes
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup or more for the work surface
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

A General Rule of Thumb: 1 medium-sized potato per serving or person. For every potato, you want to use approximately 1/2 cup of flour.

Directions

First, clean and peel potatoes. Remove any brown spots. Cut potatoes into 1” cubes; be sure to cut them into cubes consistent in size so that they cook evenly. Place cut potatoes in a medium-sized pot; fill with water just to cover. Add salt and cover with a lid. Stirring occasionally, boil potatoes for about 20 minutes or until fork tender. Over-boiling will cause potatoes to become mushy and too wet.

Drain the potatoes well. Allow them to cool in a colander. Rice potatoes using a potato ricer into a kitchen towel to remove excess water.

Combine potatoes, 2 ½ cups flour, egg and salt in the work bowl of a processor. Pulse just until the dough comes together.

Once the dough come together, turn out onto a floured board (using as much of the ½ cup flour as needed) and knead into a wide rectangle shape.

Gnocchi step 1

Cut the dough into about 8 pieces, 4 inches long.

Gnocchi-step 2

For shorter, heavy gnocchi, roll dough into thick ropes and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Gnocchi-step 4

Use a fork to make ridges on the side of each gnocchi.

Gnocchi-step 5

For thinner gnocchi, roll long ropes. Cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces and place on a floured tray. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Gnocchi-step 3

Note: While you are shaping gnocchi, finished gnocchi should be kept on a heavily floured tray as to prevent sticking together. Also, keep them in a cool place until ready to cook for no longer than 45 minutes or else place them in the freezer.

Cooking Gnocchi:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add salt and then gnocchi. Gnocchi are finished once they float to the top, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and toss in a saucepan with your favorite sauce.

For best taste and texture, allow gnocchi to “sit” in their sauce once cooked for about 5 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6

gnocchi and peas

Fresh Peas with Lettuce and Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen potato gnocchi or homemade
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1 head Boston or other loose-leaf lettuce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 4 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook gnocchi until they float to the top; drain and keep warm.

Place butter in a large, heavy pan; heat over medium heat until melted. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.

Wash lettuce and trim away the stalk end. Shake water off lettuce (it’s OK if some water remains) and add to the pan. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and the peas. Cook about 3 minutes or until the peas are warm.

Remove pea mixture from the pan and keep warm. Add cream to the pan and cook over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Return pea mixture to the pan, add gnocchi and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.

gnocchi and sausage

Gnocchi with Italian Sausage 

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 teaspoon loose saffron threads
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
  • 26-28 oz container of Italian diced tomatoes
  • 1 (1-pound) package potato gnocchi  or homemade
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-heat. Add the garlic and sausage. Saute, stirring frequently, until the sausage is cooked through. Add the saffron threads, basil and diced tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and continue simmering for about 15-20 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi to the boiling water and cook gnocchi until they float to the top. Once finished, drain and toss with the sauce in the saucepan for about 2 minutes to coat. Serve topped with Pecorino Romano cheese.

Serves 4

olivegardenchickengnocci

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced celery
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 (14-ounce) can low sodium chicken broth
  • Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup finely shredded carrots
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 cup diced cooked chicken breast
  • 1 (16-ounce) package gnocchi or homemade

Directions

Melt the butter into the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes translucent. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth followed by the milk. Simmer until thickened.

Stir in a 1/2 teaspoon salt, the thyme, nutmeg, carrots, spinach, chicken and gnocchi. Simmer until the soup is heated through.

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